A decade after relocating to Linn, Classic Buildings keeps expanding
As he tallied his sales at the end of 2007, Kenneth Miller noticed that for the first time ever, he had sold more than 500 portable buildings in a single year.
It was a big victory for his young business, Classic Buildings. Miller and his wife had founded the company in 2003 in Salem, Missouri, spending their life savings and selling just three structures during their first year. However, sales soon picked up.
Customers were attracted to the company’s Amish craftsmanship – a skill Miller learned from his dad while growing up in an Amish community in Indiana.
But even with the success in 2007, Miller had larger ambitions. For Classic Buildings to reach its full potential, he needed more than good craftsmanship and a good reputation. What he needed were computers and the internet. That was a problem.
“The conservative Mennonite church that we were part of, they didn’t have computers – no internet,” he said. “But we wanted to grow the business more.”
So in 2008, Miller decided to relocate his family and business to Linn, Missouri, and join a nondenominational Christian church without any technology restrictions.
The move has been a blessing. Today, Classic Buildings operates as a modern company with computers and a state-of-the-art website. Miller’s always-buzzing smartphone keeps him connected to his nine sales offices.
In 2016, this technology helped company revenue grow to $6.5 million on roughly 1,100 buildings sold. The trends remain positive, with Miller forecasting 15 to 20 percent annual growth.
“Portable buildings is a crazy market. During the 2008 housing recession, we were growing. It’s unreal,” he said.
Today, Classic Buildings has nearly 50 employees. Slightly fewer than half of those employees work at sales and display locations across Missouri and in one location in Illinois. The rest of the staff works at the Classic Buildings headquarters and manufacturing site in Linn.
Miller said being in a rural community has helped his business grow.
“We get good, hardworking employees from rural Missouri, and the cost of doing business is lower here,” he said.
He said security and crime are essentially nonissues at his Linn headquarters. He also appreciates the limited regulation in Linn compared with what he has experienced elsewhere.
“We have a property in Kansas City that we’re going to develop. But it’s been over a year and $30,000 spent, and I still don’t have a permit to build a 1,200-square-foot sales office,” he said. “Here, if we want to do something, we do it the next day. It’s so much better and easier to run a business in the country than it is in the city.”
Those limited regulations are a big plus, as Miller is currently planning a major manufacturing expansion on his 8-acre property.
Outside the existing manufacturing plant, dozens of finished portable buildings sit, waiting to be shipped to customers across the state. The lot showcases the wide variety of portable buildings the company builds.
Storage sheds, garages, barns and cabins are some of the biggest sellers – all available in dozens of styles and colors and with decorative add-ons.
The company is also a player in the trendy tiny-homes market. About 40 percent of the structures Classic Buildings sells are bought by people who intend to live in them at least part time. The rest are used for storage.
The company’s portable buildings range from $1,400 to $12,000 in price – that includes a prepurchase site evaluation as well as shipping and installation costs.
However, Classic Buildings also offers bigger, costlier structures like two-car garages and two-story barns. These are built in the company’s manufacturing facility, disassembled for shipping and then permanently installed at the customer’s location. These buildings can cost up to $80,000.
From the time of purchase, it takes Classic Buildings about four weeks to manufacture and install the finished product. The convenience factor is a major reason customers choose to purchase structures from Classic Buildings instead of attempting to build them.
“If you are a carpenter and you know what you are doing, sure, you can go ahead,” Miller said. “But for the most part, building on your own is not a viable option.”
Miller said most customers become aware of Classic Buildings after driving past one of the nine sales locations. However, web searches have also become a major sales driver. The internet has helped Classic Buildings attract customers from as far away as Wisconsin and Chicago.
While this hints that there is a major sales potential beyond Missouri, Miller said expansion to other states is not on the immediate horizon.
“For the next five years, we’re not trying to grow anything outside of the geography that we’re in,” he said. “If it works out, we’ll go nationwide and duplicate what we’re doing here in neighboring states. But we’re not really focused on that.”